White Heron Sangha

Fall 2020

Engaged Buddhism: 'Off the cushion' Practice

by Sharon Rippner

Decades ago, in Viet Nam, some monks asked their teacher what they should do: meditate, or help the villagers injured in the war? Thich Nhat Hanh replied that they should do both. He then proceeded to act with great compassion to reduce the physical and emotional suffering of war. Through his practice of establishing peace both on and off his cushion, he became one of the great teachers of our time, providing guidance for responding to the awesome suffering before us today.

Whether due to social or environmental causes, our present day suffering calls for the same response—to practice both on and off the cushion. There are so many conditions that cause suffering today it is easy to fall into states of aversion which can take us off course. Fortunately, in addition to TNH, we have many teachers to help us learn how to cultivate wholesome mind states and avoid unwholesome mind states no matter the situations we encounter.

Two aversive states that can arise as I read the daily news headlines are despair and hatred. The below teaching on Right View with regard to despair is by Andrew Olendzki from his series of daily teachings called Dharma Wheel offered through Tricycle. Since despair is often close at hand for me these days, and may be for you as well, here is that teaching:

“The human condition is laced with despair, as people regularly encounter misfortune and are constantly affected by painful states. The goal of these teachings and practices is not to avoid the difficult aspects of life but to see them clearly, understand them thoroughly, and pass through them (rather than around them) to the peace lying on the other side.

When you encounter despair, do not be afraid of it and do not try to push it away or hide from it. It is just a mental state, just a passing condition of the mind and of the emotional life. It is okay to turn toward it and examine it, because that is just what is happening right now. Take heart in the knowledge that the Buddha is only pointing us toward suffering because he will go on to show how it can be brought to an end.“

A teaching on avoiding hate that I also keep close at hand is by Diana Winston and can be found here.

There is now a permanent page devoted to Engaged Buddhism on our WHS website. It can be found under the tab WHAT WE OFFER. On this Engaged Buddhism page you will find links for timely actions to reduce suffering, which I will update frequently.

You will also find a link to the Engaged Buddhism Study Group, which you can attend any time without obligation. This would be a good time to check us out as we will be starting a new study in September, based on Thich Nhat Hanh's book For a Future to be Possible: Buddhist Ethics for Everyday Life.

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